City/County News

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Public Golf Courses Could Get New Leader

Posted By on Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 11:35 AM

Links at Galloway
  • Links at Galloway

Memphis city leaders want to increase the rounds of golf played on city-owned courses and to do that, they want to hire a “gold enterprises administrator.”

That job was posted on the city’s website Friday. It comes with a salary between $76, 294.93 and $97,276.92. For anyone doing the math at home, that’s more than $5,800 per month on the lowest end and up to more than $7,400 per month on the high end.

According to the posted job opening, the golf administrator would run the golf courses (of course) but would also look for “revenue generating programs to increase gold services to the public."

The Memphis City Council’s parks committee took a look at the new job in a meeting Tuesday.

The members were told city courses were privately managed before 2000. A study suggested that the city would make more money if they were operated in house and so they were. The golf industry took a nose dive and, though it has stabilized, fewer people are playing at city courses.

So, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s administration has suggested hiring a full-time golf manager for the city. Parks and Neighborhoods director Janet Hooks said her department will also need more capital money to improve the courses, which she said will help spur more play on them.

Former Overton Park golf pro Donnie Bailey told council members they should look for someone with plenty of experience in grounds maintenance.

“We also need somebody with a passion and an interest in getting the job done,” Bailey said. “That’s something we’ve not had in a number of years.”

A new golf administrator could be on board within six weeks, Hooks said.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Disc Golf Course Opens At Libertyland

Posted By on Fri, Aug 15, 2014 at 9:57 AM

A disc golf basket at Shelby Farms Park.
  • Shelby Farms Conservancy
  • A disc golf basket at Shelby Farms Park.

Fun will return to old Libertyland theme park site when a new disc golf course officially opens there Saturday.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and other city officials will open the new, 18-hole disc golf course with a brief ceremony Saturday at 10 a.m.

The course is free and open to the public.

Disc golf is played much like traditional golf, or "ball golf" as disc golfers call it. But instead of using clubs to hit a ball in a hole, disc golfers try to throw discs, like heavy Frisbees, into a basket.

The Libertyland Disc Golf Course will be the third free and open course in Memphis, joining courses at Meeman-Shelby State Park and Shelby Farms Park.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Huge Credit Card Fraud Lab Uncovered

Posted By on Thu, Aug 14, 2014 at 3:37 PM

The Shelby County Sheriff's Office [SCSO] has uncovered what it calls "one of the largest labs for the manufacturing of stolen credit cards for this area."

SCSO_logo.jpg

The office's Economic Crime Unit [ECU] was investigating two separate cases of credit and debit card when they got videos of two suspects using stolen cards.

That led investigators to an address on the 8900 block of Armour Road in Millington. On Wednesday, SCSO officers, the U.S. Marshall’s Fugitive Task Force, and Secret Service Task Force executed search and arrest warrants there.

On the scene, they found 84 credit and gift cards, numerous plain blank cards, card skimmers used to steal card information, and card encoders used to load victims’ credit card information. Officers also found stacks of documents containing the names and Social Security numbers of potential victims of Identity theft.

Officers also recovered $25,000 dollars in merchandise they believed were purchased using stolen credit card information, $9,500 in currency, two vehicles, three handguns, an AK47 assault rifle, and 30-round banana clips for the rifle.

Crystal Thompson, 30, and Harry Hudson, 29, were arrested. Both were charged with identity theft and fraudulent use of credit and debit cards.

The sheriff's office said additional charges are pending and the investigation is ongoing.

Obama Opens Disaster Aid After Tennessee Storms

Posted By on Thu, Aug 14, 2014 at 9:55 AM

Federal disaster aid is now available for the state of Tennessee to help in the recovery efforts following the storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flooding that lashed the state from June 5-10.

FEMA_logo.jpg

President Barrack Oabama made the funds available Wednesday through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency. The funding is available to state and local governments and some non-profit agencies for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the storms.

Direct assistance is available to counties in a band that stretches across the state: Anderson, Bledsoe, Carroll, Decatur, Henry, Hickman, Houston, Lawrence, Lewis, Madison, Marion, Maury, McNairy, Moore, Perry, Roane, Sequatchie, and Tipton.

The funds will help local governments remove debris, fix roads, bridges, utilities, buildings, schools, recreational areas, and other publicly owned properties.

Shelby County is not qualified for direct assistance. However, all Tennessee counties qualify for some federal assistance in mitigating hazards caused by the storms. W. Michael Moore, the Federal Coordinating Officer for the recovery effort, said more areas can later be designated for assistance.

June was the eighth wettest month on record for Memphis, according to the Memphis Weather Net blog. It was the second-wettest June on record for the city. Storms here produced some wind damage and some flash flooding. For the first half of the year, the blog says, Memphis was nearly one foot above normal precipitation.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wharton, Wingstop, and Rick Ross

Posted By on Wed, Aug 13, 2014 at 3:15 PM

1400178445-rick-ross-memphis-wingstop-restaurant.gif

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton is slated to give a key to the city to Rick Ross Wednesday at one of the rapper/chicken wing magnate's newly opened Wingstop locations, in perhaps what will be one of the most Memphis things that has ever happened.

Ross announced earlier this week that he was expanding his franchise by 25 locations. Two new Wingstop locations in Memphis have brought the franchise total here to five. The Union Avenue location opened in June and the Bartlett Boulevard location opened in May.

“Not only is it growth for us, but also growth for the community, providing jobs, good food and a family environment for the people of that city," Ross said in a statement. "We definitely look forward to continuing to help grow the Memphis area.”

Wharton is slated to "bestow Ross with a symbolic key to the city honoring the economic and community contributions the Wingstop locations have provided for the city." That transaction will come at a grand opening event at the new Union location Wednesday.

"It’s a huge honor for me and my team to have Mayor Wharton give me the key to the city," Ross said. "In every city we open a Wingstop, it is our goal to make a positive impact."

Ross, the Grammy nominated, platinum-selling rapper, was born in Coahoma County, Miss., in 1976.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Slideshow: Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail and Pop-Up Park

Posted By on Fri, Aug 8, 2014 at 1:26 PM

Tom Lee Park is getting a fitness makeover in September.

That's when the Memphis Grizzlies will install the pieces of the Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail and Pop-Up Park, what they call "an experiential pilot for the best in urban fitness and recreation." They call it RiverFIT for short.

For three months the Downtown park will have two volleyball courts, a lined soccer field, and six fixed workout stations - monkey bars, pull-up bars, abdominal benches, plyometric boxes, battle ropes and an obstacle course.

“This is really meant to be a public exploration of all the different ways we can use green space to meet community needs” says Diane Terrell, executive director of the Grizzlies Foundation and Community Investment team. “We saw an opportunity to get the conversation started by installing a few features and inviting the community to co-create the rest alongside us.”

Slideshow
Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail
Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail

Grizzlies Riverfront Fitness Trail

By Toby Sells

Click to View 8 slides

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

City Council Hears Half-Cent Sales Tax Proposal

Posted By on Tue, Aug 5, 2014 at 5:51 PM

The Memphis City Council began the legislative process Tuesday that would put a half-cent sales tax hike on the November ballot. The funds form the new tax could stop cuts in health care and pension benefits for city employees and retirees.

Fullilove
  • Fullilove
The proposal was introduced in the council’s executive session Tuesday by council member Janice Fullilove. The ordinance was introduced on first reading before the full council during their full meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The proposal would levy the new, half-cent tax on top of the city’s existing sales tax rate of 9.25 percent. Memphis fire and police services would get 80 percent of the new funds collected from the tax. The remaining 20 percent would go to the city’s debt service fund.

“It is the duty of Memphis city government to ensure that we live in a clean and safe community and provide services to our citizens including public safety, quality services, and professionally qualified employees with comparable benefits,” says the ordinance presented Tuesday.

Some feared, though, that the ordinance would not make it through the council process in time to make it on the November ballot. City ordinances are finalized in three votes. That means the earliest the sales tax hike proposal could be approved would be September 16. November ballot initiatives are due to the Shelby County Election Commission by September 1.

Council members said they would ask council attorney Allan Wade for guidance on the matter.

Graceland Project Moves Forward

Posted By on Tue, Aug 5, 2014 at 5:40 PM

Guest House at Graceland
  • Guest House at Graceland

The Memphis City Council gave the nod for Graceland leaders to pursue tax incentives for a new $76 million development project at and around the former home of Elvis Presley.

Graceland leaders will now ask the state to make the 120-acre Graceland campus into a tourism development zone (TDZ). If it’s granted the designation will allow portions of state and local sales taxes collected there to pay for the $75 million hotel, called the Guest House at Graceland, a $1 million theater for Graceland archives, and other developments.

Elvis Presley Enterprises' president and CEO Jack Soden told council members Tuesday that the 128-room Heartbreak Hotel was not well built, will soon be obsolete, and will be demolished. Demand exists “all over the world” for a hotel next to Graceland, he said.

“I know people think their projects are game changers and are transformative and I do, too ,” Soden said. “This project will transforms and elevate Graceland and have a catalytic effect on the entire area.”

Tuesday’s resolution gave council approval of the 120-acre Graceland campus as a TDZ, the overall master plan, and the minority participation plan for the project’s construction. Graceland officials said the city’s contract compliance committee approved a 31 percent minimum of minority-owned business participation in the project’s construction.

Council member Harold Collins represents the Whitehaven community and said residents there are excited about the project.

“They are standing on tip-toe anticipation to see how this project will evolve,” Collins said.

Once the resolution is read into the council’s minutes in two weeks, Graceland officials will formally present their plans to the Tennessee Building Commission for an approval of the TDZ.

Graceland leaders will come back to council later for an approval of a 5-cent tourism surcharge to be collected in the TDZ. That charge will also help pay for the project and be added on top of existing Memphis sales tax rate of 9.25 percent for a total of a 14.25 percent tax on sales at Graceland.

Elvis Presley Enterprises officials said they expected the new development to attract more than 100,000 new visitors to Graceland each year.

Overton Square Parking Permit Program Approved

Posted By on Tue, Aug 5, 2014 at 5:20 PM

flyby_parkingsign_Tobycouncilstory.jpg

Residents in the Overton Square area will now get to vote on whether or not they want to put in place a parking permit program.

The one-year pilot program would allow Square-area residents to buy an annual parking permit for $50. Residents could also buy up to four visitor permits for $25 each. The permits would allow them exclusive rights to park in spots on city streets that are currently open to the general public. Those spots would only be within a defined parking district.

The process to get the permits began in April as council chairman Jim Strickland began to have public meetings with residents there. Some opposition to the plan began but the permit program has mostly advanced quietly through the Memphis City Council's legislative process.

The council approved the program in a final vote Tuesday. Petitions will now go to residents in the area who will decide whether or not they want the permit program. At least 75 percent of those in the neighborhood have to approve the program before it is implemented.

Several residents spoke in favor of the program before the vote Tuesday.

"For the most part, our way of life has completely changed," said Monroe Avenue resident George Collier. "We have 11 children on the street. But they no longer play on the street....because the parents are afraid of the traffic and strangers."

Collier said he has witnessed some who have parked on the street "tailgating and urinating." He also said driveways there are commonly blocked, yards are rutted from traffic, and home values in the neighborhood have fallen.

Much of the new traffic on Monroe is a direct result of the success two restaurants: The Second Line and Restaurant Iris. Chef Kelly English helms both of those restaurants. While he's been working with the neighbors on the issue for months. He asked council members to vote against the measure because the neighbors there have asked for too much in the latest round of compromises.

"Moving (to Overton Square), you knew it could be revitalized and that it was something that could happen," English told council members. "All taxpayers pay for that street. (The parking permit program) sets a dangerous precedent and I don't agree with the scope of it."

English also said that the Overton Square parking garage was filled Friday night. He said t simply won't be enough to handle the capacity when the Square is completely redeveloped.

Only council member Joe Brown voted against the permit program.

Changes Promised for Memphis PILOT Program

Posted By on Tue, Aug 5, 2014 at 4:05 PM

Leaders of the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County (EDGE) are working on revisions to the incentive program it uses to help lure companies to locate or expand in the city and county.

Dulberger
  • Dulberger
EDGE leaders will soon bring those revisions to the Memphis City Council for approval in the next six to eight weeks, according to EDGE president and CEO Reid Dulberger.

The news comes as Dulberger and his team gave an overview of EDGE’s payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program to the council Tuesday. The program became the target of the Memphis Fire Fighters Association’s argument against the cuts of city employee and retiree healthcare benefits and proposals to change the city’s pension plan.

MFFA president Thomas Malone said the "corporate welfare" given in PILOTs could more than pay for the proposed cuts to the city's employee benefits. His group commissioned a study on PILOTS here by the National Public Pension Coalition. The study said many PILOTs approved in Memphis are not meeting job creation, wage, or capital investment goals.

Dulberger EDGE has approved 27 PILOTs in its three years. Those PILOTs have abated about $229 million in taxes but have generated about $568 million in revenues for Memphis and Shelby County.

“Some believe these abatements amount at a cost,” Dulberger told the council’s economic development committee. "We don’t look at it as a cost. If you don’t have the PILOTs, then you don’t have the abatements. You can’t lose what you don’t have.”

Dulberger likened the PILOT abatements to having to pay higher taxes on lottery winnings.

“I may have saved a lot of federal and state tax dollars by not winning the lottery,” he said, “but I’d be better off winning the lottery."

No details on possible changes to the program were available Tuesday.

Deal to Buy State Building Changes, Moves Forward

Posted By on Tue, Aug 5, 2014 at 11:34 AM

The deal for the city of Memphis to buy the Donnelly J. Hill State Office Building at 170 North Main has changed, making it maybe more likely that it will go forward.

Donnelly J. Hill Office Building
  • Donnelly J. Hill Office Building
The original deal was a swap. The state would give the city the 44-year-old building in exchange for the use of 400 parking spaces at the Peabody Place garage for 15 years. The parking spots were valued at around $2.2 million for the term.

The new deal would have the city buy the 12-story office building outright for $2.2 million. The state has worked out a new, separate parking deal for spots in the MLG&W garage on Main Street at a rate of about $25 per space, according to Memphis Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb.

The Memphis Police Department would be a major tenant in the state building, Lipscomb said, moving the department from its current home at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Complex at 201 Poplar.

“It seems like they would be very happy with the space and it should improve morale and efficiencies,” Lipscomb said.

Also, Lipscomb said updated surveys show the city should save $8 million over the first 15 years of buying the building. The city nows pays rent for office space all over Memphis. Cutting those leases would generate the savings.

Memphis City Council Still Weighing Health Care Options

Posted By on Tue, Aug 5, 2014 at 11:04 AM

The Memphis City Council is still grappling with changes to employee health care benefits that the legislative body approved when it passed the city budget in June.

The council approved cuts to some retiree health care insurance subsidies and approved a 24 percent increase to insurance premiums for employees.

The changes were met with backlash from employees, retirees, and the unions that represent them. Hundreds of police officers and fire fighters called in sick during and after the Independence Day holiday in protest.

Proposals to change and add to what the council approved popped up almost immediately after the vote. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s administration has proposed a $2 million Health Care Assurance Plan to ease the pain of the cuts to some retired employees. The Memphis Fire Fighters Association proposed a high-deductible insurance plan, which union leaders said would save the city money, be cheaper for employees, and keep retirees on the city health plan. That plan would replace the council’s new plan set to take effect on October 1.

Council members expressed frustration Tuesday with the original changes and how they were presented to them, during a meeting of the council’s personnel and intergovernmental committee.

Halbert
  • Halbert
“I am very disappointed with this entire process,” said council member Wanda Halbert. “We have a trust issue again at this table.”

Halbert said Wharton and his administration presented the changes to the employee and retiree health care plan only to certain members of the council. George Little, the city’s chief administrative officer, disagreed and said he, Wharton, and others had meetings with her on the issue.

Memphis human resources director Quintin Robinson said the last general premium increase was in 2010. The cost of holding those rates steady has cost city taxpayers $13 million, Robinson said.

The agreement between the city and its employees on premiums is that the city will pay 70 percent of premium rates and the employees will pay the remaining 30 percent. That number has shifted over the years, according to Little, with the city now paying about 72 percent of overall insurance premiums.

The approved premium increase of 24 percent is to make the existing insurance plan solvent, Little said. If the increase is delayed, it will “materially and adversely effect the budget.”

The fire fighters’ plan will be heard by the council in two weeks.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Shelby County Employee Dies in Tractor Accident

Posted By on Mon, Aug 4, 2014 at 1:52 PM

Pierre Davis
  • Pierre Davis

Shelby County Public Works employee Pierre Davis, 29, was killed when his tractor flipped while cutting grass on St. Elmo Road near Raleigh.

The incident happened just after 10 a.m. Davis was maneuvering the tractor along an embankment when it turned over. He died at the scene. Davis had worked for Shelby County government for eight years. He began his career there as a temporary laborer and equipment operator. He was hired full-time in 2011.

“This is a tragic day for Shelby County government. We extend our sympathy to Mr. Davis’ family,” said Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.

“Mr. Davis was a faithful employee who took pride in serving the citizens of Shelby County. We’re working with sheriff’s investigators to determine what caused this tragic accident,” said Tom Needham, director of Shelby County Public Works.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Graceland Plan Shows New Details

Posted By on Fri, Aug 1, 2014 at 5:44 PM

Guest House at Graceland
  • Guest House at Graceland

New details of the proposed development project at Graceland surfaced this week in a plan that will be presented to Memphis City Council members next week.

Plans to build a new hotel, called The Guest House at Graceland and close to the former home of Elvis Presley, were revealed in May. The price tag on that project jumped from $70 million to $75 million since the plans were originally unveiled.

The new plan came from Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s administration. It includes a three-phase construction project, an overall master plan, a new board to oversee the project, and a proposed financing mechanism.

The proposal that will go before council Tuesday includes:

Graceland Archives Studio
  • Graceland Archives Studio

Graceland Archives Studio - a 200-seat theater that will give “guests an in-depth look at the vast Graceland archives." The $1 million studio is slated to open on August 9.

Guest House at Graceland overview
  • Guest House at Graceland overview

Guest House at Graceland - 450 rooms, 16,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space, 500-seat theater, two restaurants, and a pool.

New attractions on west side of Graceland campus - new entry element at Graceland gates, a high-tech “discovery center,” a high-tech area to experience Elvis in concert, and retail, food, and beverage areas.

To help pay for the new developments, the city will ask the state to designate the area as a tourist development zone (TDZ). Some state and city taxes collected in TDZs are funneled away from traditional government coffers and go instead to pay for big projects like convention centers or tourist attractions.

A TDZ was established around the Pyramid to help pay for its redevelopment and coming projects in the Pinch District. The city now has a request before the state to make a TDZ around the Mid-South Fairgrounds to create a state-of-the-art sportsplex on the property.

In the case of the Graceland project, Wharton will ask council to approve an additional 5 percent tourist surcharge on goods and services used by visitors to the Graceland TDZ, the resolution says.

The resolution that will go before council Tuesday will also ask to set up a committee to oversee the project. The nine-member committee will have the authority to issue bonds, incur debt, and pay debt.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hidden Cameras Catch Illegal Dumpers

Posted By on Wed, Jul 30, 2014 at 12:31 PM

Hidden camera image of illegal dump site.
  • Shelby County government
  • Hidden camera image of illegal dump site.

Dumpers beware.

The Shelby County government has an eye - in fact, many eyes - on you.

County officials say they have already caught many people illegally dumping trash, tree limbs, and construction debris by using hidden cameras. Within the first 24 hours of the cameras' installation last week, a woman was seen dumping trash in the Northaven area.

“This is an important addition to our fight against blight," Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell Jr said in a statement. "The cameras are giving us 24-hour presence in areas known for illegal dumping."

The cameras cost $18,000, according to Shelby County Public Works Director Tom Needham, but he said it's a "small price based on the $100,000 we had to pay last year to remove all the debris." County crews removed some 320 ton of illegally dumped debris last year.

Public works officials will work with Shelby County Sheriff’s Deputies to identify violators caught on camera.

"We’ll now have their picture and the evidence needed for a criminal charge,” Luttrell said.

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